Herman Trend Alert: The Distracted Worker and Meetings


Cell phones, emails, music, videos, and even pets create distractions for today's workers. We may be connected on conference calls or webinars, but our real attention is not on the call. Rather we are focused on whatever technological distraction has engaged us at that moment.

Most studies tell us we are not alone. A new survey from Intercall, the largest international conference call company, found that when we do become distracted on conference calls, we have a lot of company.

More than 60 percent of the respondents to Intercall's study admitted to doing other work or sending an email, while on a conference call. And that is just the ones who were willing to admit it. More than half the people on the line were eating---hopefully on mute. Plus, less than half were in the bathroom---hopefully on mute as well. Moreover, about 20 percent were shopping and about 9 percent were exercising. And six percent were actually taking another call.

Probably one of the least exciting aspects of office work is conference calls, but they are a necessary evil. Most companies have given up the top-down thinking that results in employees feeling like "work machines".

Today's decision-making process in many organizations is democratized.

Many lower- and mid-level employees have responsibilities that would have seemed strange at more traditional companies. "With this democratization of power comes a heightened need for bosses to constantly check in, assess, manage, and tweak strategy." As teams diffuse geographically, face-to-face meetings give way to conference calls. 

The widespread use of meetings has led to people confusing activity with productivity. In three different studies, managers responded that "between 25 and 50 percent of their time in meetings was wasted. An even greater review of the literature found that meetings, although meetings may be critical to workflow, they were repeatedly often labeled as " net drains to productivity".

Wise executives will use this information to limit this waste of time and talent and find better ways to use technology to share information and more forward.  If some of the activities that currently take place in meetings are moved to private time, fewer meetings may mean higher productivity.

Special thanks to "Harvard Business Review" for raising our consciousness to this topic.


Herman Trend Alerts are written by Joyce Gioia, a Strategic Business Futurist, Certified Management Consultant, author, and professional speaker.


Joyce Gioia is a Strategic Business Futurist concentrating on workforce and workplace trends. Joyce is President and CEO of The Herman Group, a firm serving a wide range corporate, trade association and governmental clients on an international basis.

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